Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Complete Capitol Punishment 1980-84: A History of Nebraska Punk book and CD compilation (2009) - A brief overview

The long standing misconception that American punk rock and it's subsequent offshoot genres only took hold in the vastest of metropolitan centers, i.e. New York, Chicago, L.A, San Fran, etc, is an understandable but ultimately lazy notion.  The fact is, just about any small or mid-sized city in the US circa the early-80s could likely lay claim to dozens of subrosa rock acts, thus resulting in a "scene."  Unfortunately, many were under or inadequately documented, thus making it all the more challenging for future generations to partake in the music and ephemera that was produced at that time.  One unlikely locale would be Nebraska, or more specifically the city of Lincoln, which during the Reagan-era boasted a population of approximately 172,000. Though not a prominent musical hotbed (at least not nationally) Lincoln was actually something of a microcosm of several post-punk genres including hardcore, coldwave, avant-garde and more.  One such document of "Star City's" home-grown music movement was a local fanzine, Capitol Punishment, that over the course of four years produced twelve issues charting the evolution of the Lincoln music scene...and beyond.  The book painstakingly reproduces every page of those dozen, self-published chunks of tree pulp, leading things off with a thorough timeline of pertinent bands, events and record releases.

The latter half of the title, A History of Nebraska Punk is a slight misnomer, given that so many of it's pages are dedicated to national and international acts, at least by virtue of well over a hundred record reviews.  Additionally, a lot of out-of-towners were willing to spill their guts to Capitol Punishment proprietor Jim Jones, and many of their names you'll recognize - Husker Du, The Embarrassment, Black Flag, TSOL and REM among others.  True, much of the book emphasizes the endeavors of Lincoln bands (some specific ones I'll discuss shortly), but this tome also functions as a punk/alt-rock reference book for the extremely fertile span of time it covers.

Capitol Punishment, like many fanzines of it's day was a D.I.Y. proposition to the hilt, laden with visibly typewritten (and in many cases handwritten) pages, typos galore, plus gobs of amateurish cut-and-paste layouts (and I'm not talking about the Photoshop variety folks).  Jones and his crack team usually didn't delve too far into politics, though they did occasionally express some disdain for their home turf, which at one point was met with *gulp* a low-level death threat (see pg. 217)!  Not only were bands profiled in the zine, but so were local establishments like Drastic Plastic Records and punk/wave-friendly nightclubs the Drumstick and the Brickyard.  Warts and all, Capitol Punishment fanzine did a commendable job of portraying the Lincoln, NE indie scene to the outside world, while incorporating much of said world within it's pages at the same time.

When initially published, issues 9-12 were accompanied with compilation cassettes of local bands.  Separate from the book (but inextricably tied-in with it) the The Capitol Punishment Compilation, Vol. 1 CD features 29 selections from those tapes, leading off with the jittery funk-punk of The Click who were helmed by vocalist Sara Kovanda.  Anthologized by six songs here (doubly outdoing their other roster-mates) and written about extensively in the book, I envision The Click as being one of the beacons in the Lincoln scene, and they had some considerable songs under their belt to back that assumption up.  Those seeking straight-up hardcore punk would do well with Rapid Vapid, Twisted Justice, and K-Bad.  The icy, keyboard saturated strains of coldwave enthusiasts Pogrom stick out like a sore thumb here, as do the art-damaged rantings of Sacred Cows

To me (and some of you I would assume) the city of Lincoln, Nebraska will always be dutifully represented by For Against, a long-running post-punk trio, who's signature strain of melodically austere indie rock has consistently tugged on the right heartstrings.  Prior to adopting that ironic moniker, the band was dubbed D.B.L. and soon thereafter Four Against One, which is the name(s) their two selections here are credited to.   Prior to For Against, frontman Jeffrey Runnings played guitars and keyboards in Hymn to Joy, who occupy two tracks here as well.  Capitol Punishment features another branch of the For Against family tree by way of Cartoon Pupils, who included in their lineup intermittent F/A guitarist Harry Dingman III.  The link below is for a three track sampler from the album.  If you like what you hear and care to hear/read more, visit Capitol Punishment Zine onlineAmazon is good too. 

Cartoon Pupils - Anthem of Autumn
DBL (Four Against One) - Change It
The Click - Just to Realize



Frank Miller said...

The Click song is great, thanks, nice post!

Anonymous said...

Hey Spavid, hate to bother you about an old post, but where did you find that Capitol Punishment Compilation album? I can't find any trace of it online, which is a huge bummer, because I recently found out about Hymn to Joy, Rapid Vapid, and Cartoon Pupils through discovering the great band Power of the Spoken Word (which shared members with those three bands) and I was hoping to hear what they sounded like!

Apparently the cassettes released by Capitol Punishment are the only official releases for these bands, which is fantastic, except it makes finding the music impossible.

spavid said...

Jim Jones is the name of the fellow that put it out. His email as of five years was:

Unfortunately, the site selling the book/cd is down, so the best you can do is shoot him an email. I think I still have the CD, so maybe I can put it up at some point.